Charlie Chambers, December 11 1928 – October 16 2015

16 Oct

Updated with responses (below, after the video) to my email notification of dad’s passing and to the obituary posted on 11/28/15

My father Charles E. Chambers passed away on this day October 16 2015 exactly 3 years and 1 day after the death of my mother. Dad was 86 just under two months shy of his 87th birthday.

In his last year or so he was afflicted with dementia and unexplained weight loss and all his loved ones could see the decline in his mental acuity and general well-being. Considering that dad prided himself on his intellectual and mathematical ability this was a blow that he and his family felt acutely.

Dad spent most of his life working for the Center For Naval Analyses, Operations Evaluations Group as an Operations Analyst. And as such pretty much all of what he did was Top Secret and highly sensitive. And as such only the people he worked with knew what he worked on even in broad generalities. My brother Andy however did get a story out of him.

It seems that the boots that soldiers in the Vietnam War were Not Very Good. Soldiers were getting injured due to problems with their footwear. Trench-foot and other issues that he did not go into detail about. So OEG was brought up to speed on this and were assigned the task to find out what was going wrong with the boots and what could be done to fix those problems.

Dad and his team came up with a detailed analysis on the problems and potential solutions. Most if not all of their finding were implemented and the boots soldiers wear today carry the DNA of my father’s research. It is believed that the redesigned boot saved many lives and kept many a soldier safe, dry and healthy. Dad was incredibly proud of the work that he did on that. But most of what he worked on we never learned about as he, quite literally, could not tell anyone about it.

One thing he was always quite proud of was his intellectual abilities, something he stretched and used daily in his work and life. We were often amused, when going out to dinner, asking dad odd percentages of the bill, “hey dad what if we wanted to tip the waiter 18 3/8ths percent, how much would that be?” And in a time before electronic calculators were available at any cost he would pause for no more than a second or two and give us an answer.

Charlie was born on December 11 1928 to Helen and George Chambers in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. His brother was born a year and a half year later and they grew up in the northern suburbs of Philly in and around Wyncote.

He attended Germantown Friends School circa 1943. he attended American University thereafter and graduated in 1947. Shortly thereafter he enlisted in the Navy and served for a number of years, attaining the rank of Lieutenant JG.

My father met my mother while he was stationed at Key West Florida. Mom was an elementary school teacher and they met in 1955 when a group of her friends met a group of his friends. They were married on March 16 1956 in an outdoor ceremony under the warm Miami sun.

Charlie left the Navy and went to work for CNA in 1957, moving himself, his wife and four-month month old son to a small house in Springfield VA. Not much more than a year later Charlie was asked to take a year long assignment to a base in China Lake CA (famous for the rocket sled experiments of the 50s and 60s) where his daughter Bette was born.

Returning to the house in Springfield his son Andrew was born in 1961. Outgrowing the Springfield house they bought a new house in Annandale. Charlie kept the house until shortly after Barbara’s death. After the sale of the Annandale house he moved to a retirement community a few minutes away from the old house where he spent the last year and half of his life.

Dad was an introvert, the polar opposite of mom (a force of nature if there ever was one). Dad was also a great father. A boy could not ask for better, it was obvious that he loved his wife and children. In later years found particular joy in his grandchildren, practically papering the walls of the house with photographs of them.

An avid woodworker, My brother, sister and I learned the joy and satisfaction of working with our hands; building something from scratch or rebuilding something just for the fun of doing so. To this day our homes, feature furniture that my father built.

He was an avid photographer and because of that our childhood and family life has been well documented in photographs lovingly shared as framed gifts and emails not to mention family slide shows when we were young.

He was a kind and gentle man who took great joy in his friends, family and the simple things in life. I am reminded of a quote from (of all people) Dr. Suess that I will paraphrase here.

Don’t be sad because he is no longer with us, smile because he happened!


And finally my brother wrote something to mom after her death that applies to dad as well that should be shared with the world.

To My Mom,

You always found a way to help me even when I didn’t want or knew I needed it.

You taught me to ask for help, especially when I needed it most and was hardest to ask.

I think you knew how much I appreciated your help, but I fear I did not think you enough.

It is because of you that I know how to love, unconditionally…

So even though you are gone I have the skills to survive the difficult times…

And love others unconditionally as you loved me.

Thank you, your son Andy

His Obituary was placed in the October 31, November 1 and 2 issue of the Washington Post and can be found online here.

I love you dad

Archived here responses to my email about dad’s passing and the (soon to disappear) responses to the obituary on

On Oct 31, 2015, at 10:32 AM, BG wrote:

Thanks Steve. We saw it in the Washington Post today. Truly sorry. We miss your parents.



On Oct 31, 2015, at 11:42 AM, KC wrote:

Steve, I am a friend of your Aunt Bette. I am so impressed with the heartfelt  tribute you have paid your Father and the slideshow of your wonderful family photos. I know your parents would be so proud of you.

I am sorry for your lost but thank you for sharing your tribute.


On Oct 31, 2015, at 8:06 AM, MP wrote:

Dear Steve,

I think your Dad’s spirit communicated with me a couple of days ago to let me know he was leaving because I thought about him and actually put it in my “to do” list this week to call him.

Time passes all too quickly. It seems like just yesterday that we were at your home in Annandale saying goodbye to your mom. When you lose your parents you don’t lose your past. Your memories

of the past are sharpened. I look fondly at the wooden guitar foot rest Charlie made for me years ago after he retired and that I still use regularly and I think of your parents whenever I see a bluebird box. That’s a good memory to have.

And, of course, I won’t forget the wonderful years we all had together in Hawaii.

Hope your work is going well. Please remember me to Andy and Betty and touch base when you are in the area. BTW, feel free to drop a note now and then. I will always be glad to hear from you.


On Oct 31, 2015, at 11:55 AM, MP wrote:


Thank you so much for the link to your article and the video and for sharing these memories. Means alot. Yes, your mother was indeed a force of nature which used to entertain me greatly.  Yes, those of us who are are in the families of those who do top secret work all suffer from the same ??? when asked what their father’s or husbands do. My daughter Lisa always used to lament -“Why can’t my father be something normal like an accountant or a gynecologist. Why does he have to be an antisubmarinewarfareanalysit etc etc/” Alas, I have missed your mom since she left us and will miss your Dad. I never delete anyone from address book because when I run into the name of someone we have lost I always remember. No one is ever deleted from your life. They live on forever in your memory.

Again, best.


On Oct 31, 2015, at 2:58 PM, MP wrote:


On your video, especially nice to see all the photos of your parents in their later years. They both would be pleased. They were very proud of you.  Thanks also for including me in one of the photos of your Dad. Means alot.  I’ve made screen shots of some of these

for the memory bank.


On Oct 31, 2015, at 5:08 PM, KMR wrote:

Dear Steve,

Your father and mother were very dear to me and i send you and your family my condolences.  i met them a little before we started the Virginia Bluebird Society.  Charlie helped me so much establishing and fixing up old trails.  Barbara and i trained volunteers at the library several times and shared the job of fairfax county coordinator for awhile.  I loved them both dearly.  All of you are in my prayers and thoughts.



On Oct 31, 2015, at 5:23 PM, BP wrote:

Thanks, Steve, for sending on the death notice and slide show.

You found the right words and just the right pictures to capture your Dad (and Mom).

My own recollections of them will come separately.

Best, BP

On Oct 31, 2015, at 5:29 PM, BP wrote:

I was a colleague and close friend of Charlie at OEG/CNA in the 1960s/1970s.  Those who know that era/setting know it meant I was also a friend of Barb’s. Many of us gave up our families back home and ‘adopted’ the OEG family.  As you’ll see below, Charlie came to be like a big brother to me.

Charlie was my team leader (first-level supervisor) twice in the 1960s — at MCOAG /Quantico in 1964-5, and at OEG/CinCPacFlt at Pearl Harbor during the Vietnam War in mid-1967.

We (Phyllis and I) stayed friends with Charlie and Barb once I left CNA in 1978, and grew even closer in recent years, when we shared dinners and an annual vacation with a group of 4 CNA/OEG veterans and 4 spouses from that era.

I could tell many stories, but will limit myself to three.

Charlie made my retirement more comfortable by something he did when I was 25, but I was dragged kicking and screaming into it.  He asked me in Quantico if I was in CNA’s TIAA/CREF retirement program and I, a brand-new father and just starting my career, responded like a deer in the headlights — never seeing I would retire one day.  I told him I wasn’t and wondered why he would ask such a question.  He came back with something like, “Look, Knucklehead, this is a really good deal.  CNA will put nearly double aside what you put aside for retirement, and it’s all tax-deferred.” I listened. Thanks, Charlie.

The Quantico team Charlie led (it included Dale Willhite and me) was MCOAG’s largest entity at that time.  MCOAG was about to break away from OEG, and was going through a growth spurt following CNA’s formation in 1962.  Some disputes between MCOAG’s director (who was working at HQMC) and us young (‘Turk’) analysts in Quantico put Charlie in the middle. He handled it with aplomb, keeping the ‘family’ together while we all got good work done for the Marines.

Nic Timenes was badly injured in a fire aboard the carrier Oriskany in 1966.  This sensitized the OEG community to such possibilities.  Charlie was aboard the carrier Forrestal when she had a bad fire off Vietnam mid-1967.  I was back at Pearl during that time, and watching the casualty lists carefully in hopes word would come that Charlie was OK.  (This was way before the era of email and cell phones.)  Hours turned into days, and I feared Barb would phone the office from home on Oahu to see if Charlie was OK when she learned of Forrestal’s fire on the TV news.  On the third day, word came via Navy message that Charlie was OK, so I could phone Barb with that news.

Charlie and Barb are missed.


On Oct 31, 2015, at 9:59 AM, LA wrote:

Thank you so much for the notice.  We are away from Virginia in Charlotte, NC taking care of our granddaughter and were not aware of your dad’s death.  Your dad and mom were wonderful people.  I knew them through the Virginia Bluebird Society and our founding meetings with Anne Little.  My husband Gordon and I wish your family well and share all of your wonderful memories with each other.


On Oct 31, 2015, at 12:48 PM, MC wrote:


Your father, Charlie, was a mentor to hundreds of OEGers during his career, including myself. He would actively seek out “newbies” and explain the delicate role we had as civilian advisers (and friends) of our uniformed colleagues and shipmates. His role in my career at CNA/OEG remains very vivid in memory. We will miss him, but his legacy will endure.


On Oct 31, 2015, at 7:14 PM, BS wrote:

Steve, this was excellent.   I teared up.   So many of those pictures are my memories too.    Doreen called me to say she’d seen it and also got tears.    It was a Stars and Bars Group in Miami where they met.   It was the only time Barb went, talked into it by a fellow teacher.    Charlie went a second time, after returning from a few months at sea, he couldn’t find Barb but found the other gal.   Rest of the story you know.

Love,  B

On Nov 1, 2015, at 7:45 AM, CB wrote:

Hi, Steve.

Thank you so much for your notice.  I was not aware of Charlie’s passing.  I worked with Charlie through the VBS and being a County Coordinator.  I knew your mother better.  Your mother, Barbara, recommended me to follow in her footsteps as State Coordinator for VBS when she no longer could, which I have been doing since her passing.  She is missed very much as now we also will be missing your father.  I send sincere condolences and prayers for your family.   They both will be remembered as a dynamic couple who inspired so many people everywhere.

– CB

VBS State Coordinator/Virginia Master Naturalist

On Oct 31, 2015, at 11:04 AM, NH wrote:


I’m so sorry to hear the news.  Your mom and dad will always be close to my heart.  I will never forget meeting them for the first time in Purcellville as they trained me on the ins and outs of bluebird monitoring, seeting up a trail, and coordinating others.  Your dad was a pro at making the boxes.  I really loved both of them.  Thank you for letting me know.

My heart and thoughts are with you and your family.  They leave such a legacy of bluebirds and trails and friendships!


On Oct 31, 2015, at 12:39 PM, AQ wrote:


Thank you so much for letting us know.  We never had the pleasure of actually meeting your parents face to face, but we did have many dealings with them regarding bluebirds over the phone and by email.  We are so sorry for the loss of both your parents in such a short period of time.

TQ and AQ

On Oct 31, 2015, at 2:50 PM, PL wrote:

Dear Steve,

Thank you for sending this on. I am so sorry to hear of your parents passing. I did not know your father well but your mother loved him and that meant he was a great guy!

I was a student teacher for your mother at Camelot Elementary School in 1978. I kept in touch with her thru the years and lost track of her over these past five years. I am sad I did not know of her passing. Was she sick?

I wish you well,


Your Mom spoke so very highly of her children! She adored you all!

On Oct 31, 2015, at 5:46 PM, JK wrote:

Steve and family,

Thanks for sharing the sad news of Charlie’s passing.  I loved your folks and miss them both dearly.  We had so many great adventures together and they were always some of my best “cheerleaders.”  I feel so lucky to have had them in my life!

The last time I saw some of you was when Barb and Charlie brought Andy and family to Frederick Douglass to take a tour because Samantha was studying Douglass in a class.  I hope that all of you are well in spite of the loss of Charlie.

My condolences and best wishes,


On Oct 31, 2015, at 6:34 PM, TW wrote:

Hi Steve

Thank you very much for the link to your father’s obituary and the link to your website for the slide show.  One of our neighbors mentioned that your father passed away, but it is always good to hear from the family. You all did a nice job on your dad’s obituary and your slide show. At 84 it’s hard to remember that we oldsters were actually young once. Tell Andrew that he did a great tribute to his mom and give our regards and sorrow for the passing of both your parents to Bette and the rest of your families. We had some great block parties at bottom of Moreland Ln. with your parents and the rest of the neighbors and we missed them the last few years.

Best regards and take care


On Oct 31, 2015, at 8:17 PM, DL wrote:

Hi Steve,

My sincere condolences to you and the family.  Your tribute to your Dad (and Mom) was just excellent.  Your love and compassion came thru clearly.  I loved chatting with your dad via email about photography and birding after your Mom passed away.  I am glad I had the opportunity to meet and visit with both of them thru your Aunt Bette.  Glad you have so many family photos to cherish the fond memories.  You are a talented guy, Steve.  Your blog is terrific.

I am taking Bette to the surgeon on Friday in preparation for her hip replacement surgery.  It appears that the bone never healed on her fracture, most likely related to her Gaucher’s disease.  Unfortunately her previous doctors did not monitor that situation very well.  I feel badly that the poor woman had to suffer for over a year before the doctor they discovered the problem.  Bottom line she is in good hands now with new doctors and several of us will be her support team thru this next surgery and recovery.  Will keep you posted.



On Nov 1, 2015, at 8:39 AM, FT wrote:

Dear Steve:  You  have my condolences on the loss of your father and previously the loss of your mother.  I appreciate the notice  and thank you.  I worked with both Charlie and Barbara though the Virginia Bluebird Society.  They were role models !  I will keep you and your family in my thoughts.



On Nov 1, 2015, at 10:59 AM, EM wrote:

Steve, thanks for the slide show — it was a welcomed intrusion.  I thoroughly enjoyed the friendship between your mom and dad for the past 14 years.  They were fun to be around.




From the online guest book on 

November 16, 2015 

Charlie always amazed me because he was so skilled in so many ways, yet so humble. We will think of Charlie fondly every time we look at our “Charlie box” – a nest box Charlie built in 2009 for our family.

~ The K Family, Reston, Virginia November 10, 2015

I am so sorry to hear of Charlie’s passing. I never met him face to face, but we exchanged many pleasant emails concerning bluebird information from Buchanan County where I live.

~ RM, Grundy, Virginia November 03, 2015

Charlie was truly an all round great guy. And we’ll keep loving him and Barbara always. They were giants among our mentors, whose advice and example will continue to shape ours and the lives of many, many others. Thanks for sharing them with us. We carry their memory with us every day and especially every time we check a mist-net, a bluebird nest box, or process bird banding data.

~ L/D SM, Lovettsville, Virginia

November 02, 2015 

I am so sorry to hear of Charlie’s passing earlier this month — was introduced to Charlie through his many years volunteering with the Virginia Bluebird Society. It has been such a pleasure, too. I knew his wife, Barbara, as well, who was a mentor to me. I will remember Charlie (and Barbara) fondly for many years to come. Prayers for your family during this difficult time — my sincere condolences for your loss.

~ CB, Virginia November 02, 2015

Very few people made me laugh harder than my dear Uncle Charlie, especially when his lovely wife, my Auntie Barbara was back seat driving. He was kind, loving, always made an effort to be with me when I went to DC or he and Barb came to Tucson to see me with my boys. No words cousin can I say how sorry I am that he is not in this physical world. He (and your mom) will ALWAYS be in my heart. Thank you for sending this out to our family Steve. Much love, cousin B

~ BBJ, Tucson, Arizona November 02, 2015

I am deeply sorry for your loss, and I share it. Charlie was my first and most valued colleague at CNA for over a decade. He came alongside me when I joined the company in 1984 and guided my early efforts. His enthusiasm, energy, and his keen intuition and skill for working with operational data were contagious and became the foundation of everything I have since done professionally. Charlie’s passion for mentoring analysts was also contagious and I have endeavored to model it when I have had the opportunity to work with junior analysts over the years. Through this dynamic, Charlie’s “professional grandchildren and great-grandchildren” number in the dozens.

My last contact with Charlie was an email exchange in 2008. I was happy to be able to let him know how the work he started has continued and flourished with substantive fruit over the years including the Joint/NATO standard for track correlation/decorrelation.

Farewell and following seas, shipmate. We will miss you.

~ PS, Norfolk, Virginia

November 01, 2015 

Carl and I met Charlie and Barb in about 1992 at Pohick Park. Together with Julie Kutruff we started the Virginia Bluebird Society. Charlie worked for over a year on getting our non profit status paperwork completed with the IRS. Usually it takes an attorney to do this but Charlie persevered and did it on his own.

He was always willing to go out and help Carl with any building project for the blueibirds. We attended the National Bluebird Society Conference and the Virginia Bluebird Conferences with Barb and Charlie many times and always had the best time. Both Charlie and Barb were delightful company and always up for fun and a good meal (especially Charlie). The world is a better place because of this man. We will miss him.

~ A/C L, Fredericksburg, Virginia October 31, 2015

Charlie was one of my first mentors when I started my work career at CNA. He was a kind soul, a great teacher, and as genuine as they come. My deepest condolences to his children on the loss of Charlie.

~ MA, San Diego, California

October 31, 2015 

I met Barb and Charlie when I was a seasonal park ranger at Mason Neck State Park and they roped me in to Bald Eagle Surveys and later I convinced them to help me put in a bluebird trail at Pohick Bay Park which led to us starting the Virginia Bluebird Society with Anne and Carl Little. Barb and Charlie have been an integral part of my adult life for nearly 30 years. I will always be grateful to have had them in my life. My condolences to the family.

~ JK, Lorton, Virginia October 31, 2015

We live across from Barb and Charley since 1981.I have missed them very much! It was so good to know that Charley knew everything when something needed fixing , had all the tools and the patience to explain ‘stuff”. Just good people, friends ,neighbors.

~ C/M B, Annandale, Virginia

October 31, 2015 

So sorry for your loss?Knew him and Barb through the bluebird trail Always enjoyed meeting with them

~ PG, Alexandria, Virginia

Thank you so much for passing along the sad news of Charlie’s passing. It has been decades since Charlie and I spent many long hours at sea together during the testing of USS TICONDEROGA. I have nothing but the fondest memories of his extraordinary technical skills, his sound counsel, and his kind friendship. Very few people in their chosen profession rise to the level of “legend,” but Charlie was clearly one of them. We are all the worse for his passing. Rest in Peace, Shipmate.

~ DD, Washington, District of Columbia


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